Orlando Sentinel |
Jul 21, 2021 at 4:53 PM
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FILE – In this May 5, 2005 file photo, fireworks blast from the top of Cinderella Castle as thousands of VIPs, cast members and guests throw commemorative Mickey Mouse Ears hats into the air as Disney World celebrates the Disney Global 50th Anniversary, simutaneously with other locations around the world via satellite television, left, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, file) **OUT LEESBURG, LADY LAKE, DAYTONA BEACH NEWS JOURNAL, TV OUT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES** ORG XMIT: FLORL301 (JOE BURBANK / AP)
When I heard last week that Disney was bringing 2,000 new jobs to Orlando — high-wage ones with average salaries of $120,000 — my first instincts were to cheer.
After all, the announcement was a big deal for this low-wage community. It also suggested maybe Disney was finally ready to treat Orlando as more than just an easy way for the California company to siphon money out of Florida and over to execs in Burbank and investors on Wall Street.
But I wasn’t quite ready to applaud last week because I didn’t think we had the full story.
See, we’d been told what Disney was offering. But we hadn’t yet heard what the company wanted.
And I’ve been doing this job long enough to know there’s almost always more to the story … especially when it involves companies as good as Disney is at greasing the political skids.
Well, on Wednesday, the other shoe dropped: For moving 2,000 white-collar jobs from California to Orlando and investing a new campus, Disney may get more than $500 million — and maybe more than $800 million — worth of incentives and tax breaks. The amount would be equal to whatever Disney says it’s investing in its new Lake Nona campus.
Disney could shave — or maybe even completely erase — its annual corporate tax bills for the next 30 years, according to the papers signed by the state’s economic-development division.
Disney could get more than half a billion dollars in state tax incentives for the regional hub in Lake Nona where it plans to relocate more than 2,000 employees, documents show.
How odd, given that Gov. Ron DeSantis constantly says Florida is the state where every company wants to be. Yet here we are trying to bribe a company that’s already here.
It will be interesting to see the reaction. America lost its mind back in the ’90s when Alabama gave Mercedes more than $200 million to open a new car plant. Yet Disney is looking at breaks that make a Mercedes look like a Yugo.
And keep in mind: You didn’t hear a word about all these tax dollars of yours being given away last week. No, that news only broke Wednesday after Sentinel journalists spent several days peppering state officials with questions and records requests.
This is disturbingly common behavior in this state.
A few years ago, local leaders announced that the U.S. Tennis Association was opening a new campus at Lake Nona, and everyone applauded.
What those leaders didn’t tell the public back then was that they were using tax dollars to make the deal happen.
It took the Sentinel nearly seven years to unearth records that detailed $20 million worth incentives — including a secret sponsorship deal with Visit Orlando.
It was as if your spouse used your money to buy a new TV, refused to tell you how much it cost … and yet still expected you to declare the purchase a good deal.
The perpetual tax break saves the United States Tennis Association more than $1 million a year in property taxes that would otherwise help fund Orange County schools, libraries and other local government services.
No other business works like this. But somehow in the incentives game, when politicians get access to your tax dollars, secrecy is all the rage.
Personally, I don’t like the game one bit. For starters, the way incentives are doled out is unfair. Most businesses — including most small businesses and startups — don’t get any tax breaks. The owners work hard and pay their tax bills every year to keep cops on the street and schools open. The subsidies and tax breaks often go to the companies with the best lobbyists or lawyers.
Second, companies sometimes ask for incentive deals for expansion plans they already have on the books. In those cases, the incentives don’t actually incentivize anything.
Just for argument’s sake, though, let’s say Disney truly wouldn’t have expanded its operations in Florida without kickbacks from taxpayers.
Then what does that say about Florida’s business climate if you can’t get a company that’s already here to expand here unless you give them half a billion dollars?
I’m just not sure I buy that.
There’s a lot about this deal that needs vetting — including precisely how much Disney is expected to save each year. Every bit of that should be public. Because whenever one taxpayer gets a pass on paying his bills, all the other taxpayers’ have to make up the difference, or state services suffer.
Listen, I would love for Disney to bring these jobs to Orlando. I genuinely mean that. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has written more than I have about Central Florida’s dire need for good-paying jobs. And Disney has a strong reputation as a good employer.
But I’d love it even more if Disney added new jobs the way the vast majority of Florida businesses do — without asking the public to pay for them.